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Wednesday, May 03, 2023

5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Herbie Hancock - The New York Times

5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Herbie Hancock

We asked musicians and experts, including Thundercat, Patrice Rushen and Nicole Sweeney, which Hancock song they would play for a friend.

Dante Zaballa

Over the past few months, The New York Times has asked experts to answer the question, What would you play a friend to make them fall in love with jazz? We’ve explored artists like Ornette Coleman and Mary Lou Williams, and styles ranging from bebop to modern.

Now, we’re turning to Herbie Hancock, the groundbreaking pianist and composer who emerged in jazz as something of a prodigy. At age 11, Hancock — who listened to classical music at the behest of his mother — played Mozart’s D major Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Three years later, he became interested in jazz after seeing a classmate play it on the piano. He eventually gigged around Chicago during summer breaks from college, which led to his working with the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins in 1960. His career took off after the trumpeter Donald Byrd asked Hancock to play in his quintet. He moved to New York City and in 1962 released his debut album, “Takin’ Off,” on Blue Note Records.

That would have been a fine enough existence, but in 1963, his life changed when the trumpeter Miles Davis — the world’s biggest jazz musician — brought Hancock into the fold to be a member of his band, the Second Great Quintet. Alongside Davis, the bassist Ron Carter, the drummer Tony Williams and the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Hancock would become a superstar, lending his melodic chords to several cornerstone albums in Davis’s discography. He left the band in 1968 and started tinkering with spacier sounds. By the early ’70s, Hancock had all but abandoned jazz for funk and ambient textures, and released challenging music that didn’t fit one box in particular. In 1973, he released his biggest album, “Head Hunters,” a propulsive funk odyssey that went platinum and led to Hancock playing to huge crowds.

Now 60 years into his artistic trajectory, Hancock is still adventurous, still embracing new avenues and working with younger artists who are just as daring. Below, we asked 11 musicians, writers and critics to share their favorite Hancock songs. Enjoy listening to their choices, check out the playlist at the bottom of the article, and be sure to leave your own favorites in the comments.

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Julius Rodriguez, musician

If I had to pick only one song to listen to for the rest of eternity, “Textures” would be it. It’s not the flashiest or most technically/pianistically complicated performance, but it grooves in a way Herbie Hancock alone can. That is because it is Herbie Hancock alone! Herbie’s 1980 LP “Mr. Hands” always interested me because he took a fascinating approach to crafting it: Every track has a different and specific personnel of musicians. Each track feels like the musicians were handpicked to best represent each musical idea. But then you get to “Textures,” which only credits one musician — Herbie Hancock. From acoustic piano, to all sorts of keyboards and synthesizers to create bass lines and orchestrations, to programming the drums, every sound you hear was created by his own hands. This to me feels like the purest insight into the mind of a genius.

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Salami Rose Joe Louis, musician and producer

The first time I heard “Actual Proof” I was convinced it was made by time travelers, possibly from the year 2300. I had never heard anything like it. It has the hypnotic effect of being so freaky and funky and the groove so locked into warp speed. Yet it’s deeply fluid and meditative at the same time. This track encapsulates everything I admire about Herbie’s work: his forward thinking and explorative sound, his unique harmonic and melodic choices, his genius understanding of rhythm and the way he can converse with it in a song, his improvisation and flow, and his ability to make an absolute ripper of a tune that you can groove to with effortless joy. But behind the scenes, the music is incredibly challenging and innovative rhythmically and harmonically.

Herbie’s Rhodes solo on this is one of my favorite solos. It is so creative and expressive and playful and feels like a deep conversation with the other players. In general this recording embodies a time when a group of players were on some next level, listening to one another, exploring new sounds, pushing one another to stretch. It is a beautiful piece of history (even though I am still half convinced it is from the future).

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Shannon J. Effinger, writer

“Maiden Voyage” first crossed my path while I was in high school. It was an unexpected gift from my neighbor, a World War II Navy vet and landlord who would regale me with stories about the musicians he rented rooms to — Miles, Billie, Prez, Dizzy. All I could hear then, and still hear now, are its endless possibilities.

The album was recorded in one day — March 17, 1965 — for Hancock’s fifth studio release, after he enlisted Ron Carter, Tony Williams and the saxophonist George Coleman, along with the young trumpet titan Freddie Hubbard. Equal to his prowess and touch for the piano, Hancock is one of this music’s greatest shape-shifters, as he has keenly adapted and created within the industry’s ever-changing tides. Just as jazz was transitioning from individual-led to ensemble-driven, Hancock rendered several original compositions that any jazz group must cut its teeth on. And the title track to “Maiden Voyage,” from its palpable opening vamp to the unbridled freedom he builds, gives each player his respective moment to shine.

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Damon Locks, musician and visual artist

“Hornets” is musical archaeology. It is simultaneously resolute, absurd, deeply steeped in tradition yet stretching wildly into a future unknown. It asks questions about how we got here and where we are going. It’s cinematic, standing outside an art opening but also a sweaty D.J. set. “Hornets” is Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” for the Vietnam War era. It’s as much a song for today as it was in 1973 (when it was released). “Hornets” is the harbinger of ’80s-era African Head Charge and ’90s-era Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a cellphone call on the subway with no headphones. “Hornets” has always been a timeless classic that, like life, can be propulsive, confounding, intimidating and groovy. And just when you think you know what is happening, the kazoos come back in.

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Stephen (Thundercat) Bruner, musician

The first time I heard Herbie Hancock’s “4 A.M.,” I was with my friend Brandon Coleman. I remember we were driving. We went to Amoeba Music. We were very much into finding out where a lot of our favorite music came from, going in many different directions. We’d pick up Jaco Pastorius’s music, Weather Report, and all kinds of stuff. And Brandon really loved Herbie Hancock.

I remember we heard “4 A.M.” in the car together and we both knew that we had to learn that song. At some point in the night, I remember we got back to his crib, and we tried to sit there and play through it a bit. I think we even tried to record it one time to see what it would be. And it was cool, man. We felt like it was such an amazing tune. It was the feeling of hearing it at the time, for both of us, that was very euphoric. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite Herbie tunes.

It’s one of those moments that made us wonder, “Wow, these guys. Was this indicative of them being up at 4 a.m. and this is what happened with them?” It even made me want to just stay up till 4 a.m. in life in general, just to see where things would take me.

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Patrice Rushen, musician

When asked recently about my favorite composition of Herbie Hancock, I actually found the question very difficult to answer. But “Speak Like a Child” immediately caught my attention from the moment that I first heard it. I never forgot the feeling of that “first listening.” The mood and orchestration of the piece are beautiful. The recording is beautiful. But the special attraction for me, beyond these qualities, are Herbie’s touch on the piano, his sound and the lyricism of his playing. This track offers images of innocence, clarity, imagination and mastery. Each player is listening.

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Nicole Sweeney, radio host

“Butterfly” is a blend of beauty, funk and groove from Herbie Hancock’s 1974 album “Thrust” with his band the Headhunters. The notes start crawling toward your soul, tickling every intricate part like a caterpillar on your forearm. Great leaders know how to get the best out of people, and Herbie does just that while “hanging” in the cut until the 4:30 mark, where he starts to shed his “cocoon” and let his instrument become the star of the song. This is where you feel a transition happening, as the music takes on another life; wings are sprouting, colors floating, as you are sent to another stratosphere. By the 7:00 mark, you experience a beautiful “Butterfly” that has taken off, with a flair and flutter that takes your breath away. By the 9:10 mark, you are reminded of the beautiful beginning, as Herbie always takes you on a magical, musical ride that you never want to get off of.

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David Renard, Times senior editor

I struggle to understand the listeners who didn’t like “Head Hunters.” I know they were out there — a 1976 New York Times review of a concert that covered Hancock’s career to date said the show “made a strong case for the purists” who “lament the tendency of talented musicians to ‘sell out’ in the direction of disco‐funk.” (Sidebar: Hancock had left a big enough impression on jazz to warrant a retrospective concert 47 years ago.) I guess if you’re going to sell out, do it with a Minimoog bass line as nasty as the one that sets off “Chameleon,” pilot an ARP synthesizer into space and move more than a million copies of a forward-looking jazz-funk LP. A chameleon had changed, and not everyone could see it, or in this case hear it.

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Marcus J. Moore, jazz writer

Following a five-year stint in Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet (my favorite band of any genre ever), Herbie Hancock released “The Prisoner” in 1969 as a partial tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot and killed the year before. In turn, the title track feels precarious, teetering between darkness and light. Against triumphant horns and a swinging backbeat played by the drummer Albert (Tootie) Heath, Hancock launches into it with murky electric piano chords, creating this alluring juxtaposition. On purpose, the song runs hot and cool, conveying attitudes of the oppressed and the oppressor, “the feeling of fire in violence” and the “feeling of water in Dr. King,” as the album’s liner notes explain. Toward the end, Hancock — on acoustic piano — brightens the composition with radiant chords while the horns grow darker. And that’s why it’s one of my favorite songs: Equally soothing and intense, “The Prisoner” imparts the aura of social constraint, of being free yet confined to an apparatus not built for you.

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Timmhotep Aku, culture worker

To innovate is to transgress. A lifetime of music appreciation has taught me this lesson. Herbie Hancock taught me this lesson with “Rockit.”

When the single was first released in 1983 I was only a toddler. But it was a hit, and even as it slipped off the charts it seeped into the fabric of my world so that a grade-school me recognized it when I heard it at Kings Plaza Mall and bugged out when I saw its bizarre video on MTV or New York Hot Tracks.

This was one of the only times I heard the scratching sounds I knew from rap records in a “mainstream” context. Though I was young, I could perceive the difference between our thing in the hood and what was considered “pop” and ready for prime time. Herbie Hancock, assisted by the deft turntablism of Grandmixer DXT, not only subverted the idea of what kind of music a jazz pianist could make but also where sounds born in the ghetto could be played. Future shock for real.

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Giovanni Russonello, Times jazz critic

At one point in his memoir, Hancock offers up an appealing idea: “Improvisation — being truly in the moment — means exploring what you don’t know.” Realize that this comes from someone who loves nothing more than to figure out how stuff works. As a kid, Hancock was always deconstructing radios and toys, and he taught himself jazz by a similar method: dissecting what he heard on albums, down to the granule, and recreating it. (You’ve seen this clip, right?) In tunes like “Dolphin Dance,” a Hancock composition-turned-jazz standard, these two impulses — attention to detail, and affinity for mystery — don’t feel at all opposed. There’s a complex science to this piece, but plenty of open space for the spirit to come in, too. Hancock first recorded it for “Maiden Voyage,” an LP whose freely floating title track lingers on single chords for long passages, turning harmonies into environs. But “Dolphin Dance” takes a different route toward no-resolution: The chords move around constantly, coloring the main melodic motif with different shades and feelings. Hear him play the tune alone, at a 1984 concert in Switzerland — pausing every so often to investigate and unravel a different chord, or refitting a woozy phrase into a swaggering groove — and you see what this is all about: The greater the detail, the more the mystery."

5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Herbie Hancock - The New York Times

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Ahmad Jamal - Ahmad's Blues

Ahmad Jamal - But Not For Me

Ahmad Jamal - Autumn Leaves - Palais des Congrès Paris 2017 - LIVE HD

Ahmad Jamal - Poinciana - Olympia Paris - LIVE

Ahmad Jamal, Jazz Pianist With a Measured Approach, Dies at 92

Ahmad Jamal, Jazz Pianist With a Measured Approach, Dies at 92

“He was known for his laid-back style and for his influence on, among others, Miles Davis, who once said, “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal.”

Ahmad Jamal in shirtsleeves at the piano in New York.
The jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal in 1959. Among those he influenced were the pianists Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, and the trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Ahmad Jamal, whose measured, spare piano style was an inspiration to generations of jazz musicians, died on Sunday at his home in Ashley Falls, Mass. He was 92.

The cause was prostate cancer, his daughter, Sumayah Jamal, said.

In a career that would bring him a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master award, a lifetime achievement Grammy and induction into France’s Order of Arts and Letters, Mr. Jamal made his mark with a stately approach that honored what he called the spaces in the music. 

That approach stood in marked contrast to the challengingly complex music known as bebop, which was sweeping the jazz world when Mr. Jamal began his career as a teenager in the mid-1940s. Bebop pianists, following the lead of Bud Powell, became known for their virtuosic flurries of notes. Mr. Jamal chose a different path, which proved equally influential.

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The critic Stanley Crouch wrote that bebop’s founding father, Charlie Parker, was the only musician “more important to the development of fresh form in jazz than Ahmad Jamal.”

Mr. Jamal, seated at the piano, circa 1942, in his hometown, Pittsburgh.
A young Mr. Jamal at the piano, circa 1942. He was only 14 when he joined the musicians’ union.Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris/Carnegie Museum of Art, via Getty Images

In his early years, Mr. Jamal listened not just to jazz, which he preferred to call “American classical music,” but also to classical music of the non-American variety. 

“We didn’t separate the two schools,” he told The New York Times in 2001. “We studied Bach and Ellington, Mozart and Art Tatum. When you start at 3, what you hear you play. I heard all these things.”

Mr. Jamal’s laid-back, accessible style, with its dense chords, its wide dynamic range and above all its judicious use of silence, led to more than his share of dismissive reviews in the jazz press early in his career; Martin Williams’s canonical history “The Jazz Tradition” described his music as “chic and shallow.”

But it soon became an integral part of the jazz landscape. Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett are among the prominent jazz pianists who looked to Mr. Jamal as an exemplar.

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Probably the best-known musician to cite Mr. Jamal as an influence was not a pianist but a trumpeter and bandleader: Miles Davis, who became close friends with Mr. Jamal, recorded his compositions and arrangements and would bring his sidemen to see Mr. Jamal perform. He once said, “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal.”

Ahmad Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh on July 2, 1930. Fritz, as he was called, began playing piano at age 3 and began studying with Mary Cardwell Dawson, the founder of the National Negro Opera Company, a few years later. By the time he joined the musicians’ union at age 14, the celebrated jazz piano virtuoso Art Tatum had hailed him as “a coming great,” and he began touring with George Hudson’s big band after graduating from high school.

In 1950 he moved to Chicago, where he converted to Islam, changed his name to Ahmad Jamal and assembled a piano-guitar-bass trio known as the Three Strings. During an extended stay at the Manhattan nightclub the Embers in 1951, the trio came to the attention of the noted record producer and talent scout John Hammond, who signed them to the Okeh label.

Mr. Jamal at the keyboard wearing a string tie.
Mr. Jamal performing in San Francisco in 1976. He released as many as three albums a year in the late 1960s and early ’70s.Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

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In 1955 Mr. Jamal recorded his first full-length album, “Ahmad Jamal Plays,” with the guitarist Ray Crawford and the bassist Israel Crosby, for the small Parrot label. Tellingly, when the album was acquired and rereleased the next year by Argo, a subsidiary of the seminal blues label Chess, it was retitled “Chamber Music of the New Jazz.”

Mr. Jamal received his first major national exposure with the Argo album “At the Pershing: But Not for Me,” recorded at a Chicago nightclub in 1958 with Mr. Crosby and the drummer Vernel Fournier. It spent more than two years on the Billboard album chart, an all but unheard-of stretch for a jazz album.

The success of “At the Pershing” stemmed in part from Mr. Jamal’s ambling yet propulsive interpretation of the standard “Poinciana,” still his best-known recording. But he received some criticism for not including any original compositions on the album, which he later said spurred him to focus on writing his own music.

Mr. Jamal’s output was as prodigious as his light-fingered style was economical: He released as many as three albums a year in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and more than 60 in his career. 

He also founded a handful of record labels, a management company and a Chicago nightclub and restaurant called the Alhambra, although that venture lasted less than a year. In keeping with his religious beliefs, the Alhambra did not serve alcohol, which presumably hastened its demise.

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The Alhambra’s financial difficulties marked the beginning of a dark period of Mr. Jamal’s life, in which he walked away from performing for almost three years. The club closed in December 1961; three months later, he filed for divorce from Maryam Jamal, formerly named Virginia Wilkins, whom he had married when he was 17. 

Five years of court action followed, during which Mr. Jamal was arrested and charged with nonpayment of child support for their daughter. (He was later cleared.) He was hospitalized in 1963 after an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. Not until 1964 did he begin touring and recording again.

He married first as a teenager, and that marriage ended in divorce. He married Sharifah Frazier, the mother of Sumayah, in the early 1960s, and they divorced in 1982. He married Laura Hess-Hay, his manager, the same year, and they divorced in 1984, though she continued to represent him until his death. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two grandchildren.

Live recordings often captured Mr. Jamal at his nimblest, and many jazz connoisseurs rank such albums as “Freeflight” (1971), recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and “Chicago Revisited: Live at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase” (1993) among his best. 

In 2011, Mosaic Records released a nine-CD boxed set consisting of the 12 albums he recorded for Argo between 1956 and 1962. His album “Blue Moon,” a well-received collection of originals and standards, was released in 2012 and nominated for a Grammy Award. His album “Marseille” was released in 2017 and “Ballades” in 2019.

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Last year Mr. Jamal released two separate double-disc collections: “Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse (1963-64)” and “(1965-66),” consisting of previously unreleased live recordings made in Seattle. A third set,  “(1966-68),” is planned.

Mr. Jamal in 2011 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Rob Verhorst/Redferns

The reverence with which Mr. Jamal was held stretched well beyond the jazz world. Clint Eastwood used two tracks from “But Not for Me” on the soundtrack of his film of “The Bridges of Madison County.” 

But the more extensive tributes have come from the world of hip-hop. Tracks like De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” and Nas’s “The World Is Yours,” along with dozens of other rap songs, have sampled Mr. Jamal’s piano riffs.

As infectious as those riffs were, it was ballads that held the strongest appeal to Mr. Jamal. Like many other interpreters of the standard repertoire, he made a point of learning the lyrics to the songs he played. He spoke approvingly to The Times in 2001 about a conversation he once had with a great jazz saxophonist who was also known for his way with a ballad.

“I once heard Ben Webster playing his heart out on a ballad,” he said. “All of a sudden he stopped. I asked him, ‘Why did you stop, Ben?’ He said, ‘I forgot the lyrics.’”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.“

Thursday, March 02, 2023

R I P Wayne Shorter: August 25, 1933 - March 2, 2023

Batiste Sessions with Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter - Footprints

Wayne Shorter, sage of the saxophone, dies at 89 : NPR

Wayne Shorter, sage of the saxophone, dies at 89

Wayne Shorter, photographed in 1985.

David Redfern/Redferns

Wayne Shorter, the 12-time Grammy-winning saxophonist and composer and the creator of one of the singular sounds in contemporary jazz over more than half a century, died on Thursday, March 2 in Los Angeles. Shorter was 89 years old.

Cem Kurosman, a publicist at Blue Note Records, which released Shorter's recent recordings, confirmed his death in an email to NPR. 

Shorter's influential career spanned decades. From the hard bop of the late 1950s to genre-defying small-group jazz in the '60s all the way through the birth of rock-influenced jazz in the '70s, Shorter's soprano and tenor saxophones offered sonic clarion calls for change and innovation.

Wayne Shorter, born Aug. 25, 1933, in Newark, N.J., was known as a deep thinker on and off the bandstand, ingrained with an intense curiosity that began during his childhood. After studying music at New York University in the mid-1950s, he joined a band that brought him to the attention of the jazz world as a composer and saxophonist: Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

In the mid '60s, Shorter solidified the second coming of the Miles Davis Quintet, joining Davis, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams and pianist Herbie Hancock. It was there that he was able to indulge a passion for the intellectual that once prompted one of his NYU professors to wonder why he wasn't a philosophy major.

"The six years I was with Miles we never talked about music," Shorter told NPR in 2013. "Miles, on his table, he had scores of Krustaviski, the conductor ... and then he had another book on architecture and another book on law. Just sitting on the table. And then he'd talk about clothes and fashion."

During his time with Davis, Wayne Shorter also recorded a series of highly regarded solo albums. His relationship with the iconic Blue Note Records from 1964-1970 resulted in a number of now-classic recordings including Juju(recorded with members of John Coltrane's quartet), Speak No Evil (recorded with two fellow Miles Davis bandmates) and The Soothsayer (featuring fellow Blue Note artist Freddie Hubbard). Many of the albums contained Shorter compositions that are now considered jazz standards.

He stayed with Davis after the breakup of the second quintet, when the trumpeter experimented with electric instruments. Shorter then joined another Davis alum, keyboardist Joe Zawinul, to co-found Weather Report, which became one of the most renowned jazz-rock bands of the '70s. The band's 1979 album, 8:30, resulted in the first of Shorter's 11 Grammy Awards. He was awarded the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2015.

The latter part of Wayne Shorter's life was marked by almost 50 years of devotion to Nichiren Buddhism, a Japanese strain of the popular religion. 

"I was hearing about Buddhism," Shorter told NPR in 2013. "But then I started to look into it and I started to open up and find out what was going on in the rest of the world instead of the west."

Those spiritual teachings influenced the musical ideas he applied to jazz at the start of the new millennium when he formed the Wayne Shorter Quartet featuring a handpicked group of much younger musicians.

The group's recorded work was captured by Shorter's return to Blue Note Records after over four decades with a series of releases that showcased the band's intense improvisations on Shorter compositions old and new.

As recently as 2018, with the release of his acclaimed final album, Emanon, Wayne Shorter continued to find the common ground between the spiritual and the musical.

"We have a phrase [in Buddhism]: hom nim yoh," he said in the 2013 NPR interview."It means 'From this moment forward is the first day of my life.' So put 100 percent into the moment that you're in because the present moment is the only time when you can change the past and the future."


Wayne Shorter, sage of the saxophone, dies at 89 : NPR

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Billy Harper (Usa, 1975) - Croquet Ballet

Billy Harper's Rite of Passage: on attempting to sit in with Elvin Jones

Randy Weston And Billy Harper: 'Blues To Senegal,' Live On Soundcheck

At 80, the Saxophonist Billy Harper Is Still a Towering Force

At 80, the Saxophonist Billy Harper Is Still a Towering Force

He spent years playing with Art Blakey, Lee Morgan and Max Roach, earning praise for his sax’s piercing cry. He’s still composing and turning heads live.

Billy Harper, standing on a Harlem street against a beige building, dressed in black leather and holding his saxophone with both hands as it leans against his right shoulder.
Billy Harper said his mission as he turns 80 hasn’t changed: “I just want to be a pure musician.”Scott Rossi for The New York Times

“Billy Harper grew up in front of an audience. Every Sunday, his family buttoned him into a suit and tie with a freshly starched shirt and drove to Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Houston, where his grandfather preached and young Billy sang. “They were having me onstage when I was 3, singing solos,” he said. “The music was getting inside me.” Surrounded by great vocalists, he thought he was going to be a singer, too: “Until I got the horn.”

Harper moved to New York in 1966, when he was 23, and began turning heads with the piercing and songful cry of his saxophone. It didn’t take long for him to become a prized collaborator for members of the jazz pantheon like Art Blakey, Max Roach and Lee Morgan. One of the last standing from his generation, Harper, who turns 80 on Tuesday, is still revered in the jazz world as both saxophonist and composer.

Earlier this month, he played four nights at Smoke, the Manhattan jazz club, where attendees got a blast of his singular sound, which summons the urgency of John Coltrane and the power of the Black church. A charismatic presence onstage, dressed entirely in black leather, Harper calls his listeners to attention. His improvisations are torrential, dance-like and swinging, spiraling upward to mountaintop pronouncements that can leave listeners in a sweat.

“His music is bracing,” said the pianist Francesca Tanksley, who has performed in Harper’s bands since 1983. She credits him with opening doors of inspiration, so that the music “becomes less of a craft and more of an adventure. He’s a man on a mission, he always has been — a knight of sorts.”

The drummer Billy Hart, who plays with Harper in the all-star hard bop group the Cookers, said Harper’s music reflects the divine. “I’ve known Harper for 50 years, and we don’t even talk that much,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what he believes, but I can hear it. It’s rhapsodic. He’s praying on the bandstand.”

Harper crosses a Harlem street, saxophone in hand.
Harper said that music comes to him in his sleep or while walking down the street: “Suddenly I’ll hear a tune in my head, and sometimes I’ll hear a whole choir of voices, singing it.”Scott Rossi for The New York Times

Harper shrugs off praise. “I just want to be a pure musician,” he said, speaking by phone from his apartment in Harlem, where he lives with his wife, the singer Morana Mesic, and their 11-year-old son, Prince. His mission at 80 is the same as when he was 25: “The idea is to make a mark in the creative music world — not anything commercial — just add something to what has already been done by the guys who came before me. If I can just do that, then I’ve done my part. I’m doing it.”

He has long flown under the media’s radar, perhaps because his career took off as rock grew dominant in the music industry and independent jazz labels struggled. His debut album, “Capra Black,” recorded 50 years ago with a hotshot band and a choir, is a classic of what’s come to be known as spiritual jazz. Harper has never played anything but spiritual jazz. You can hear it in his stirring tunes, stretching back to the 1970s: “Cry of Hunger,” “The Awakening,” “Trying to Make Heaven My Home.”

As a composer, he bears comparison with more famous musicians like Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner. Some of his compositions seem to unfold across vast landscapes, majestic and haunting, as if Harper were traveling through epochs of time. “Billy is a griot, a storyteller,” said T.K. Blue, the saxophonist and flutist who performed with Harper for 30 years in bands led by the pianist Randy Weston. “I can hear the history of where he comes from in that music. It’s regal. I hear Africa. I hear Texas. I hear the blues.”

Harper spent much of his childhood in Houston’s Third Ward, a historically Black neighborhood filled in those days with blues joints. Walking past a music shop when he was 11, he spotted a shiny tenor saxophone in the window and was intrigued by its complexity — its multitude of buttons and keys. Returning home, he announced that he wanted either a pony or a saxophone for Christmas. (He got the horn.)

Harper’s Uncle Earl, an old schoolmate of the bebop trumpeter Kenny Dorham, introduced him to albums by Dorham, Horace Silver and Sonny Rollins. Harper, self-taught, played along with the records and in school marching bands, and soon began sitting in with blues bands around town.

By 1961, when Harper arrived at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), his playing “had the soul stuff, the feeling,” he said. “But I had to get the technical stuff, and they made me get it together.” Enrolled as a music major, he took his first-ever saxophone lessons and developed a grueling regimen. Holing up in a practice room for 10 or 12 hours at a time, daily, he garnered a reputation: “People thought I was crazy — or that I was going crazy,” he recalled, with a laugh.

Harper stands before a window, his back slightly arched as he blows into his saxophone.
Harper has recorded 20 or so albums with the quintet, and is planning a new one. He’s been writing songs inspired by his 11-year-old son.Scott Rossi for The New York Times

Toward the end of his junior year, Harper won a seat in the school’s prestigious One O’Clock Lab Band, known for its polish and professionalism. It was 1964, and Harper became the first Black student ever accepted into the ensemble: “It was a big thing to get in, though I hadn’t really thought about it back then,” he said. The other musicians “were open and warm, and the band was off the charts. After that, I was ready for anything.”

After graduating in 1965, he spent a year or so in Dallas, jamming with big-time saxophonists like James Clay and Claude Johnson, veterans of Ray Charles’s band. Then in 1966, Harper jumped into his black Mustang fastback and drove to Manhattan. His second night in the city, he parked in front of the Five Spot Cafe on St. Marks Place and rushed inside with his horn to hear Thelonious Monk. He forgot to lock the car, and was robbed of nearly everything he owned. That first year in New York was a challenge. He tried sitting in nightly at Slugs’ Saloon, a jazz mecca on the Lower East Side, but rarely got a paid gig.

But in 1967, a chance meeting on Broadway with Gil Evans, the composer, arranger and Miles Davis collaborator, led to an invitation to rehearse with Evans’s big band. Harper would become one of its important soloists. Word spread and his résumé grew.

Harper — himself an accomplished drummer — spent years playing with the drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He was a member of the trumpeter Lee Morgan’s final band and was at Slugs’ the night Morgan was fatally shot there in 1972. He spent much of the ’70s in a quartet led by the drummer Max Roach, and held the first tenor chair in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Its leaders would keep him glued to his seat until the end of a set — at which time, like a pent-up thoroughbred leaving the gate, he would rise to deliver a scarifying blizzard of a blues-drenched solo.

His A-list collaborations continued over the decades; since 2010, Harper has recorded half a dozen albums and toured widely with the Cookers while also maintaining his own group, which he described as authentic: “We have a soul-heart-mind connection when we play together,” he said.

Typically, members stick with the quintet for years, if not decades, as in the case of Tanksley. To this day, she said, when the band plays one of Harper’s compositions, the musicians seem to enter “a small universe with its own state of being.”

Harper has recorded around 20 albums with the quintet, though it’s been a while — the group’s most recent disc, “Blueprints of Jazz Vol. 2,” came out in 2008. His recordings can be as hard to find as they are musically definitive.

He plans to make a new album this year and has been composing a set of tunes inspired by his son. He said that music comes to him in his sleep or while walking down the street: “Suddenly I’ll hear a tune in my head, and sometimes I’ll hear a whole choir of voices, singing it. So I run home and write it down, fast.”

Not every 80-year-old maintains this level of creativity; playing a tenor saxophone for hours at a time requires a serious degree of physical conditioning. But Harper — who used to jog miles daily and trained as a martial artist — finds that his energy doesn’t flag much.

“Inside, I feel 25, maybe 26,” he said.

And he’s still turning heads with the singing sound of his saxophone. His friend Hart compares him to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: “People want to hear that sound. Charlie Parker had it. John Coltrane certainly had it. It’s a sound that doesn’t change the notes, it makes the notes, and that’s the sound that Billy has.”

Monday, January 09, 2023

Fulton grand jury looking into whether Trump interfered with 2020 election completes investigation

Fulton grand jury looking into whether Trump interfered with 2020 election completes investigation

 | January 9, 2023 10:03 AM

“ATLANTA — The special purpose grand jury looking into possible election tampering is over and has been dissolved.

This means the grand jury has also issued its final report.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis began investigating nearly two years ago whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election here in Georgia.

The special grand jury cannot issue indictments. Willis will decide whether to go to a regular grand jury to pursue criminal charges.

Over about six months, the grand jurors have considered evidence and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including high-profile Trump associates and top state officials.

Several of Trump’s allies have testified over about a 6 month period, including former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as John Eastman and other lawyers who participated in Trump’s attempts to stay in power.

A hearing has been set for Jan. 24 to talk about what comes next and if its contents will be made public.

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Part of the investigation into Trump revolved around his phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where he asked him to find nearly 12,000 votes.

Trump has consistently called the phone call “perfect” and has dismissed the Fulton County investigation as a witch hunt.

Criminal defense attorney Drew Findling, part of Trump’s legal team in Georgia, in August said the focus on Trump “is clearly an erroneous and politically driven persecution.”

Trump’s allies have also denied any wrongdoing.

Willis declined to comment for this story.”